Richard Jones has just overseen the largest WiMAX deployment in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for a telecom startup in Saudi Arabia.

Yet the managing partner of Ventura Team said his biggest concern is whether WiMAX will make it as a technology.

"LTE is coming. The difficulty is can WiMAX be in service before LTE arrives?"

Jones told that WiMAX is suffering from not having a "poster boy" to accelerate its adoption, perhaps a contributing factor to why it has failed to take off so far in India and the US.

Another is cost.

He said that despite there being plenty of WiMAX development around the world, prices for base stations are still high.

"Volumes are needed to get down the production price because WiMAX is still expensive," he said.

"The economies of scale that could normally bring equipment costs down will not occur. It’s a real challenge."

Richard Jones, managing partner of Ventura Team

Jones said WiMAX has to succeed and the key to increasing the number of subscribers is a successful deployment.

"If that happens, other people will get confidence in it."

He is part of an expert panel at the this week’s WiMAX MENA Forum in Dubai discussing how WiMAX can create profitable opportunities for new entrants in the Middle East and North Africa.

His 16-month stint as Chief Commercial Officer for the Saudi Arabia company making the WiMAX deployment makes him well qualified to comment.

Jones said the Gulf does offer a real opportunity since it is a market with relatively low broadband penetration.

The area’s mix of villas and apartments often means it is not possible to put fibre in economically.

In addition, there is the presence of an incumbent and the fact the industry has been slow to de-regulate means prices remain relatively high.

"DSL is very poor in the region as a whole," he said. "There’s a long distance between people’s houses and exchanges, so no-one is getting a reasonably fast DSL service from the incumbent."

Earlier this month, ZTE announced that it has partnered with Etihad Atheeb Telecom (Atheeb), the largest WiMAX operator in Saudi Arabia.

They have agreed to build the Kingdom’s first nationwide WiMAX network.

What WiMAX offers, according to Jones, is coverage which is so far lacking.

"WiMAX provides an interesting opportunity for companies to provide broadband in areas that are uneconomical for fibre and places where people would not get a DSL service," he said.

The existing gap in the market has led to a rise in 3G services but Jones said the opportunities for WiMAX are considerable.

"WiMAX is still there. There is still the potential for services based on WiMAX to cover lots of subscribers not covered by fixed and around the 1-2 meg broadband service," he said.

Jones said that WiMAX has become the fast roll-out technology of choice.

But he said it is also being exploited by fixed licence operators in the Gulf who currently have a very good 3G service.

In this situation the operators may have a WiMAX license – obtained at a fraction of the cost of a mobile licence – that doesn’t allow them to do anything mobile with the technology.

But when licences are unified to pave the way for fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) these carriers will be able to become good quality mobile providers.

"What’s happening is that people are using WiMAX as part of a very innovative strategy," said Jones. "There are huge cost saving to be made."

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